New Orleans is a place that has seen a lot of hardship. Even before Katrina hit six years ago, it was a city that dealt with a high crime rate and economic depression. Yet, it’s also a city filled with a rich history, beautiful architecture, and beautiful people. I’ve been blessed to do a few videos now highlighting the best of New Orleans: the people. The last two years Pictage had it’s annual PartnerCon conference there, and in each case they hosted some kind of charity event where photographers could donate their time and talent for a great cause.
Last year they (in conjunction with Adorama) held one of their Lens & Learn events at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southeast Louisiana’s NFL Youth Education Town (Whew! That’s a mouthful). Lens & Learn is an event where top photographers from around the nation come out to teach the kids about photography. Jim Collins (the Pictage CEO, not the best-selling author) gave me the direction to make this video more about the NFL YET, as opposed to a promo for Lens & Learn or Pictage. As such, we in this video get to hear from the executive director and some of the parents about what this great organization is doing for the community. In the middle of an area where devastation from Katrina is still so prevalent, this organization continues to work with and inspire kids of the community to rise above their circumstances.
The first thing I do is walk the premises to get a feel for the place. This was essentially an event shoot. So it would be the first (and only) time I’d be here. No time to stake-out the location ahead of time. When I walk the premises, I’m looking for 1) the elements of the location that will contribute to the story and 2) places where I can shoot the interviews. This part is frequently the hardest in a setting like this because it’s not exactly conducive to quiet. It’s in a urban neighborhood, so that immediately means I know I’ll be dealing with traffic noises. It’s also going to be filled with over fifty rambunctious kids ranging from around 8 and 10 years of age up to middle and high school. In other words, more noise. As much as possible, I’ll try to select a location with an interesting background for the interviewee, but the best place for audio must take precedence. If I had a choice between a totally quiet room with heinous cinder-block walls vs. a scenic and colorful outdoor setting with loud interruptions, I’ll take the ugly cinder-block room. For a video like this where I plan to use a lot of b-roll anyway, the location of the interviews is not important visually. (In the first Lens & Learn video I shot, it was all b-roll and you didn’t see any of the interviewees during their interviews).
When I go into a video like this, I’m all about the emotion. I’m a director that is fond of the close-up. I love showing faces, expressions, and eyes. Especially the eyes. As much as possible I try to stand off and capture the moments as they happen. Sometimes that’s hard to do when you’re running around with a DSLR on a Glidecam Pro and a DP Slider. But, I think you’ll see from the video below about 99% of the b-roll shots were purely journalistic without interfering with the natural events of the day.
I also knew I wanted to point out how this place was like an oasis in a desert of economic depression. As of the taping of this video, they still had a dilapidated pool area and a condemned gymnasium damaged from Katrina and still not renovated. Perhaps the most ironic shot in the video is a broken down sign on the ground just to the side of the condemned gym that says “Rebuild New Orleans Now.”
But I also wanted to show the pride that the employees and volunteers have for this place. The work they put into keeping it clean for the children. What warmed my heart the most was seeing the executive director, Mr. Guy, mopping the floors. What a great example of servant leadership! As soon as I saw it I knew that was going in the video.
The Opening to a Story of Hope
I pretty much also knew early on that I would open the video by presenting “the problem.” Establishing in some way what it is these kids face everyday and the potential hopelessness of it all. I knew I would use the visuals of the condemned areas to visually show this. But when I got in the editing room, I felt like I needed more. So I gathered some public domain audio from news clips to place over the visuals. I adjusted the audio pan settings of the audio bites so that some of them come out the left speakers (pan setting -1 in Final Cut Pro), some the right (+1 pan setting), and some both (0 pan setting). I then overlapped them in a way so that key phrases and/or words could be heard over the cacophony. The last sound bite you hear is a political figure saying “…they know themselves they’re going to end up dead or in jail.” I admit, it felt a little harsh, but I wanted there to be a clear and obvious contrast to what the viewer will see and hear from interviews and the footage. The song I chose was perfect—”The Answer is Love” (which I got from Triple Scoop Music). It was such a good choice, that when the NFL YET posted it to their YouTube channel, that’s what they named the video.
Your Craft Can Make a Difference
In the end, I wanted a video that emotionally moved people, instilled hope, and inspired not only the parents who’d watch it (that this is a great place to trust with their kids), but I wanted the video to inspire other artists to see how they can give back in a very meaningful way.
To learn more about the Lens & Learn Program, e-mail Jim Collins.
If you can’t see this video in your email or RSS reader, click here.
Camera toss photo: Kevin Swan
“The Answer is Love” by David Kessner, Triple Scoop Music
Great job, Ron. I really enjoyed this piece, and I felt like I got a good sense for the program and Mr. Guy, who was great and brought so much personality it. And I loved seeing the all those kids with cameras in their hands! It can be challenging doing this type of project, but you did a wonderful job!
I recently had the opportunity to do a local non-profit spot for an organization that teaches inner city New York children to swim —
Many challenges in getting it made, but very rewarding to be engaged in something so positive.
Ron Dawson says
Hey Mahani. So great to connect with another passionate doc filmmaker. Thanks for your kinds words and for sharing your video. I’ll be sure to check it out.